Managing Peafowl at Rocking B-A-B Ranch
Joshua R Nelson
Rocking B-A-B Ranch lies in the small town of DeFuniak Springs, which is located in the middle of the Florida panhandle. We are about 30 miles north of the famous white beaches and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The ranch was established in 1979 by Bill and Jane Buckelew and has become a main attraction for our small town. Although there are many animals of interest here on the ranch, raising peafowl has become a very big deal. What started as the love for one pair of India Blue peafowl about 15 years ago has now grown to somewhat of an obsession with peafowl numbers reaching as high as 700. Each year brings more excitement as we strive to produce and offer elite birds of unique colors, patterns, and varieties. With nearly 55 varieties of peafowl available on our ranch, we have peafowl to offer every bird enthusiast.
The care and management of our peafowl is the foundation for a successful breeding program and we would like to take the time to give the readers some insight into our practices. A successful breeding program for any type of animal begins with the selection of high quality, healthy breeding stock. It has taken many years to accumulate our breeding stock and the addition of new breeding birds into our program continues to this day. Most recently we imported some Pavo Muticus Muticus and Muticus Spicifer green peafowl to add to our breeding program. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work with these spectacular birds and we are dedicating many of our efforts to the conservation of the species.
Our breeding birds are housed in pens that are 12ft wide x 36ft deep and 61/2 ft tall. Some of our older pens are 14ft wide x 20ft deep and 8ft tall. The back walls and the back 8ft of the roofs are constructed from metal roofing to provide the birds with adequate shelter from the weather. Each breeding pen houses 1 peacock and 1-5 peahens that are carefully matched to produce specific varieties of peafowl. All our breeding birds are provided with clean water and a mixture of ½ commercial mixed game bird pellets and ½ game cock conditioner feed free choice. The game cock feed provides the birds with 13 all natural grains and seeds. The protein content of the game bird feed is 18%, which some breeders believe to be a contributing cause of perosis, or slipped tendons. But, in our opinion and experience the cause of perosis can be traced to a mineral deficiency, not the amount of protein content in the feed. We have had great success with this mixture of feed. Breeding birds are also provided with as many fruits and vegetables as possible as well as grass clippings.
Our peafowl usually begin breeding in April and may continue to breed well into August. The peak of breeding season usually occurs in late May and early June. The peahens will lay one egg every other day until they have layed a full clutch, which ranges between 3-8 eggs. We do not provide any nests or boxes for our peahens to lay eggs. The birds will usually create an indention in the sand and lay their eggs right on the ground. All eggs are gathered daily and stored on their side in a temperature controlled room, consistently 72 degrees Fahrenheit, until incubated. Eggs are collected for one week, and then placed under broody chickens or in artificial incubators. Each week’s batch of eggs is always set on the same day of the week throughout the entire breeding season. For example, we will collect eggs from Sunday to Monday and set the batch of eggs on that Monday, then repeat the process until breeding season is over. This means that no eggs are older than 7 days before they begin incubation. In the past, all eggs began incubation under broody chickens because they yielded a much higher hatch rate, however the use of our Petersime incubator has proven to be just as successful as broody chickens. Our incubators are set at 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 54%. We have conducted many experiments with temperature and humidity and these settings provide us with the best results. Peachicks often begin hatching after 26 days of incubation and always hatch by the end of the 28th day. Most of our peachicks hatch on the 27th and 28th day of incubation.
After hatching, peachicks are tagged with numbered aluminum wing bands, recorded in our books, then placed in heated brooders where they will remain for a minimum of 5 weeks. Peachicks are grouped by age when placed in brooders and kept in a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in the brooders is decreased 5 degrees each week until the chicks reach the age of 5 weeks. They are then moved outside into above ground pens where there is no controlled temperature. By this age chicks are feathered and able to maintain there own temperature, at least here in Florida. While peachicks are in heated brooders they are provided with fresh water and fed a commercial chick starter feed with 18% protein content. When peachicks are moved outside into above ground pens we begin feeding them the same 24% game bird crumble that is fed to our breeders. The peachicks are kept in above ground pens until they reach a minimum age of three months old. The purpose in keeping the chicks off the ground for so long is to minimize exposure to parasites and disease transferred to the birds from the soil. After a minimum age of three months the peachicks are removed from our above ground pens and placed on the ground in one of our chick barns. Our chick barns are 30ft x 22ft, and 20ft x 50ft. When the birds reach the age of 6 months old we begin feeding them the same mixture of feed that is offered to our breeding birds. The peachicks will remain in chick barns until they are sold or reach the age of 1 year, which ever occurs first. They are then moved into one of 2 large flight pens. The dimensions of our flight pens are 40 x 100, and 40 x 60.